SET ASIDE your preconceptions. For Dany (How to Make Love to a Negro) Laferriere has returned, with An Aroma of Coffee (Coach House, 160 pages, $13.95 paper), translated by David Homel; but where we had sex and Montreal in the former, the latter offers us childhood and Haiti. The books have about as much in common as Saki and the Marquis de Sade.
A fond tip of the hat to Laferriere's real-life grandmother ("Da"), An Aroma of Coffee recreates in gentle, almost lulling tones the deceptively placid summer of a 10-year-old boy, who watches the world go by from Da's front porch in the village of Petit-Goave.
The porch, a vantage point of some distinction, proves a ringside seat in the circus of village life. There's the wealthy Devieux, in his black car (one of two automobiles in the village); there's Seraphina the chicken-seller, Bazile the gendarme, Lone the notary, and so on. And at the centre of it all is Da herself.
A wise and loving guardian, Da is also the local archive, arbiter of right and wrong, peerless gossip, and coffee lover nonpareil: her wisdom, advice, and occasional dream interpretations come punctuated by offers of the precious brew, the true black gold of the district.
"When I think about it," says the young narrator, "nothing much happened that summer, besides my tenth birthday." But of course this isn't true. For Petit-Goave, with its "bald, smoking mountains," its blistering heat, and the "turquoise Caribbean" for backdrop, is a small, teeming slice of the universe. The "nothing" that happens there is no more, and no less, than life itself.